Spank’s Edinburgh Diary, Saturday 17/08/2013 [ALSO UNEXPECTEDLY INCLUDING: Brewdogging #9: Glasgow]
Simian Substitute Site For September 2013: Yellow Ape Craft

A Londoner Rich With Complaint: Pick Of The Year 1988

Ooh! An unexpected switch in brand loyalty from Maxell to TDK! No idea what happened there, to be honest.Aciiiiiiiiid! Aciiiiiiiiiiid! It's 1988, the Second Summer Of Love. I'm in that sweet spot slap bang in the middle of my twenties, perfectly positioned in London, The Capital Of Earth, and ready to take part in what's going to become the biggest social movement of my generation.

Except I don't. Though from the evidence of previous years, that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Back then, I tended to like the theory of dancing more than the actual practice. Also, house music didn't really interest me all that much. There's a wonky, but nevertheless visible line, that can be drawn between my teenage obsession with Pink Floyd and my twenties love of hip-hop - in both cases, it was the sonic experimentation that attracted me, whether it was done with synthesisers or turntables. With house records, once you'd heard one 808/303 combo, it struck me that you'd pretty much heard them all.

So my list of favourite records of 1988 (which include some CDs - this was the year I bought my first player) is pretty light on dancefloor fillers, with one or two exceptions. For the most part, it's indie rock with a smattering of hip-hop, like the good little NME reader I was at the time. It was a similar story when it came to live shows: return visits to old favourites like the Pogues and Billy Bragg, mixed with a couple of stadium gigs from the likes of Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper and Prince. I may have thought of myself as politically radical at the time, but musically I was shockingly small c conservative.

I'm fifty years old today, and I've decided to spend part of my birthday listening to the records I liked exactly half a lifetime ago. Join me.

Nasty Rox Inc. God help us if there's a war.SIDE ONE

1. NASTY ROX INC – Escape From New York (from Ca$h, ZTT) [video]
Yes, I guess this counts as a dance record - but it gets a pass here for structuring itself around a classic Washington go-go beat (see Trouble Funk in previous years), rather than the four-on-the-floor thump that was so prevalent in 1988. If you wanted to, you could blame Nasty Rox Inc for all sorts of horrors that followed in their wake, as bands attempted to meld rock and hip-hop elements with varying degrees of success. It'd be a shame to lump this lot in with Limp Bizkit and the like, as this track still holds up, probably because of the OTT ZTT production job.

2. MORRISSEY – Late Night, Maudlin Street (from Viva Hate, EMI) [video]
At the time, it felt like the ultimate Mancunian dream team - Morrissey, coming off the back of the Smiths, effectively ditching Johnny Marr for Vini Reilly of The Durutti Column. Initially, the rumour was they were writing songs together, although in the end it was producer Stephen Street who was responsible for composing the tunes. We can only dream of what a Moz-fronted Durutti would have sounded like, but Viva Hate was a pretty great substitute for that, merging the best elements of its individual contributors into something much bigger. And at least we got some flashes of the wit that Morrissey seems to have sadly lost nowadays. "You without clothes, oh I could not keep a straight face / Me without clothes, well a nation turns its back and gags."

3. BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE – Applecart (from Tighten Up Vol. 88, CBS) [video]
Actually, this is rather lovely. If I sound surprised, it's because over the years I've assumed that the only decent things BAD ever did were their debut album and the odd track or two from the second, and all their appearances on these compilations are down to nostalgia for their glory days. But there's a melancholy to this particular song that's totally unlike anything else of theirs I've heard, and I'd completely forgotten about it until listening to it just now.

4. TOM WAITS – Ruby’s Arms (live) (from Big Time, Island) [video]
Up until this point, all I'd really heard of Waits' music was Swordfishtrombones and beyond: the period when he stopped being a traditional piano man with songs, and morphed into something weirder. I suspect this was true for several people, and I also suspect Island Records knew it too: hence this live album and long-deleted accompanying movie, giving Tom the chance to introduce people like me to the gems in his back catalogue. Nobody who knows Waits at all really needs to be told how magnificent Ruby's Arms is, so I won't. 

5. JESUS AND MARY CHAIN – Sidewalking (from Barbed Wire Kisses, Blanco y Negro) [video]
It took me years to realise I was a fan of The Jesus And Mary Chain: I just noticed one day that I'd gradually accumulated every single thing they'd ever recorded. This was the point where they started toning down the industrial noise that made their name, and making it more obvious that they'd always been writing classic rock songs - it's just that now, you could actually hear them.

6. SINEAD O’CONNOR – Troy (from The Lion And The Cobra, Ensign) [video]
You just knew, from the moment you first heard her, that Sinead O'Connor was going to be huge. I'm sure there are plenty of other songs from her debut that sound as good as this, but you've probably noticed by now that hugely over-orchestrated bombast was the quickest way to my heart back in the 80s, so Troy ends up here.

7. PREFAB SPROUT – The Venus Of The Soup Kitchen (from From Langley Park To Memphis, Kitchenware) [video]
Prefab Sprout are always guaranteed a slot on these compilations, of course. (Hang on, what year was Andromeda Heights? 1997? Oh.) Langley Park is an album I really need to revisit soon, though, as I haven't listened to it for yonks. I'm not entirely sure that Macaloon quite achieves the Broadway musical showstopper he was apparently aiming for here, and it's possible that other tracks have survived the test of time better. Still, it's a very pretty thing, just a bit more sugary than it really needs to be.

8. RYUICHI SAKAMOTO – The Last Emperor (from The Last Emperor, Virgin) [video]
I'm pretty sure I've still got Bertolucci's film on VHS somewhere, without ever feeling the need to upgrade it to a DVD copy. Sakamoto's unique soundtrack mix of east and west still sounds staggering, though.

It's Stump! Doesn't really work at this size, does it? Sorry.SIDE TWO

1. STUMP – Charlton Heston (single, Chrysalis) [video]
Or more precisely, Lights! Camel! Action! Charlton Heston Meets The Irresistible Force, to give the 12" mix its full title. From one angle, this is a terrible thing - Stump's unique quirkiness forced to battle it out against everything a pair of 1980s remixers can throw at it. But on the other hand, it's amazing to hear that they're still audible as themselves through all the cliched percussion loops and zany samples. The production job manages to enhance the silliness of the original rather than overwhelm it, so hooray for that.

2. BILLY BRAGG – The Short Answer (from Workers Playtime, Go! Discs) [video]
The best track on Workers Playtime is Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards, as any fule kno. But that one turned up on POTY 1987, thanks to a dodgy live recording of mine. This typically Braggian tale of lost love and compensatory masturbation comes a pretty close second, though.

3. THE SMITHS – The Draize Train (live) (from Rank, Rough Trade) [video]
I'm on this one, somewhere. It was recorded in October 1986 at a gig at the Kilburn National Ballroom, for subsequent broadcast on Radio 1. After the Smiths split, Rough Trade released the recording commercially as one more attempt at milking their deceased cash cow. Rank's notable for being the only recorded appearance by the five-piece lineup of The Smiths: amusingly, I've chosen an instrumental that only features four of them.

4. THE POGUES – Thousands Are Sailing (from If I Should Fall From Grace With God, Island) [video]
Here's one reason why I loved the Pogues: it wasn't just a one-man band, despite all the focus on Shane Macgowan at their height. The highlight of IISFFGWG was a song written by the great Philip Chevron (and twenty-five years later, you need to read this and then hear this), which Macgowan performs to perfection. It's the combination of the two that makes it so magnificent. In later years, Macgowan would be too fucked up to do the song justice, and Chevron never could quite give it the same edge when he took over the vocals. You want to hear the apex of the Pogues' career? This is it.

5. VOICE OF THE BEEHIVE – I Walk The Earth (from Let It Bee, London) [video]
Over the past couple of decades, I seem to have made a habit of going out with women who turn out to own at least one Voice Of The Beehive record . I have no idea what that means. As for I Walk The Earth, it's just a great pop song, possibly even one of the few perfect ones. Maybe that's what they like.

6. U2 – All I Want Is You (from Rattle And Hum, Island) [video]
I'm still trying to locate the exact point where I fell out of love with U2. I think that Rattle And Hum was a major step along the way, as they started to believe their own mythology just a little too much and forgot to write any songs. Except for this one, of course, which is enhanced beautifully by Van Dyke Parks' wobbly string arrangement.

7. PRINCE – Anna Stesia (live) (personal live recording) [video]
I was still doing naughty things at gigs with a recording Walkman back in 1988. Don't worry, I've stopped now. (Although given that one third of the people at any live event nowadays are openly making bootleg videos with their iPhone, it makes me wonder why I was so furtive about doing it.) Prince's Lovesexy show at Wembley Arena still counts as one of the highlights of my concertgoing life, an epic combination of staging and musicianship in just the right proportions. The recording of Anna Stesia I made on the night was about twelve minutes long, including an extended coda and three minutes of pretty taped orchestral wibbling to cover everyone getting off stage for the interval. I think that's the part I really liked at the time, rather than the song itself.  

Deacon Blue. I'm beginning to suspect that they didn't have colour photography in 1988.SIDE THREE

1. DEACON BLUE – Born In A Storm / Raintown (from Raintown, Columbia) [video]
I suspect that's the sound of all my cool points going down the drain. But I still have to admit that for the first couple of albums at least, Deacon Blue had some pretty good songs. As is usually the case when I include two tracks back to back on one of these compilations, the transition between the two is as important as the individual songs themselves. Nevertheless, in my head I've been pulling together a compilation of Sounds That Scream 1980s from all these POTY tapes, and those synth stabs in the chorus would definitely be in there.

2. THE PRIMITIVES – Crash (from Lovely, RCA) [video]
There's probably a whole generation that only really knows this song from a road safety advert. Now that's disturbing. Amazingly, the Primitives are still going, and Tracy Tracy is probably a little old lady by now. (Yeah, like I can talk today.)

3. VAN MORRISON & THE CHIEFTAINS – Raglan Road (from Irish Heartbeat, Mercury) [video]
My love of the Pogues was inevitable, if not genetic - growing up in a house with an Irish dad and a record player, I heard all the old songs they were inspired by in much the same way as the band themselves did. Inevitably, the Pogues became a gateway drug back to the originals, as well as to the glorious mix of old and new that came out of Van collaborating with one of Ireland's best folk outfits.

4. PUBLIC ENEMY – She Watch Channel Zero (from It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Def Jam) [video]
This is kind of inexcusable lyrically these days - 'a five letter word that describes her character', indeed - but remember what I was saying about sonic experimentation at the top of the page? Listen to this sheer bloody racket and hear what I'm talking about.

5. HEIDI BERRY – North Shore Train (from Doing It For The Kids, Creation) [video]
"A 15 track compilation LP for the price of a 7" single," boasted the cover, and I was a sucker for a bargain even then. This folk-tinged track certainly wasn't the sort of thing I was expecting from Creation Records at the time, and intrigued me enough to buy Heidi Berry's own album, so as a loss leader Kids was undoubtedly successful. Sure, nothing else on Berry's record was as good as this, but Alan McGee had got my money by then so he didn't care.

6. NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – The Mercy Seat (from Tender Prey, Mute) [video]
Actually, it's a similar story with this song, but with a happier ending. I spent several years in the 1980s collecting Beechwood Records' Indie Top 20 compilations, and they introduced me to loads of bands that I wouldn't have heard otherwise. The Mercy Seat was on (checks list) volume 5, and that led me to Cave's album, and all the ones he's made since. (Although I think it's possible I didn't actually buy Tender Prey until 1989, after seeing him read from his debut novel at the Edinburgh Book Festival - they used it as background music before the reading, if you can imagine the Bad Seeds being in the background of anything.)

7. JOE JACKSON – A Slow Song (live) (from Live 1980/86, A&M) [video]
No gimmicks on this record, after a few years of experimentation from Jackson: just a big collection of live recordings made over the seven year period in the title, covering all the expected favourites (including three very different versions of Is She Really Going Out With Him). He admits in his own sleevenotes that the buildup to the final chorus is what makes this particular take of A Slow Song stand out, and you can't argue with him on that.

8. THE WEDDING PRESENT – Take Me, I’m Yours (from John Peel session) [video]
It's possibly the prevalance of the 12" single at this point in history that explains why these compilations tend to average out at a measly eight tracks per 45 minute side of tape. But even outside the context of the dance remix, look at something like this simple little guitar tune, which stretches out for close on nine minutes. It's a trick that the Weddoes pulled off several times in their career - find a cheerful little eight-bar phrase, and just keep repeating it and building on it until you're not entirely certain if they're ever going to stop. That approach accounts for roughly six or seven minutes of this song. There's nothing that really separates this from Status Quo apart from the haircuts, but back then - and, to be honest, even now - that's enough. (They'd subsequently re-record Take Me for their 1989 album Bizarro. Inevitably, it wasn't as good.)

The Blow Monkeys. I stand corrected on the whole colour photography thing.SIDE FOUR

1. THE BLOW MONKEYS – This Is Your Life (single, RCA) [video]
Yeah, speaking of 12"singles... There's actually a pretty good song here, and a rather lovely arrangement (which would be ditched for a much duller house-influenced one when TIYL was more successfully re-released in 1989). But if you've ever listened to any extended dance versions from the 1980s, you could probably programme this entire remix in your head and come up with something very close to what actually ended up on vinyl. The cliches got set in stone surprisingly quickly: it's fun to be reminded of them once in a while, but it's easy to forget they did this to virtually every single back then.

2. TANITA TIKARAM – Valentine Heart (from Ancient Heart, WEA) [video]
Is it possible to spend too much time analysing the opening line of a song? Maybe. But it's a line that stuck out for me, as you can tell. One of the forgotten songs on Tikaram's much-lauded debut, it's good enough to make me want to go back and see if the rest of the record still sounds as fine. And yes, she's still going too.

3. BOMB THE BASS – Beat Dis (single, Mister-Ron) [video]
Well, if we're talking about the tracks that were really filling the dancefloors in 1988, this is probably the best example of one that made it onto this collection. Despite its legendary status as the record that introduced the smiley face icon to dance culture, I think of Beat Dis as being closer to hip-hop than house, with its devil-may-care attitude to intellectual property rights and its determination that no ten seconds of it will sound anything like the next ten seconds.

4. SCRITTI POLITTI – Oh Patti (from Provision, Virgin) [video]
Provision marked the completion of Scritti's transition from scruffy indie urchins to glossy widescreen popstars. Listening back to it now, it sounds just a fraction too slick - granted, Cupid & Psyche '85 was slickly produced too, but it at least had a few bits of spikiness to it that this record seems determined to flatten out completely. Still, it got Green into Miles Davis' phone book, which must have been nice for him.

5. PET SHOP BOYS – Domino Dancing (from Introspective, Parlophone) [video]
Another dance remix, but this one is done exactly right. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the video of the extended mix of Domino Dancing is a wonderful package of delights - the song intelligently expanded rather than just an instrumental mix rammed up against the vocal version, the video full of beautiful boys and girls scowling lustfully at each other in all available permutations.

6. SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES – The Last Beat Of My Heart (from Peepshow, Polydor) [video]
The Banshees had been making records for over a decade by this stage, but Peepshow was the first album of theirs for which I felt compelled to fork out hard cash. Initially, it was down to the sound of it rather than the songs - particularly Peek-a-Boo, a single that didn't really sound like anything else out there at the time. But the album had songs to burn as well, especially this beautiful little thing.

7. THE PROCLAIMERS – Oh Jean (live) (personal live recording) [video]
Back to Kilburn National Ballroom, but this time it's me recording rather than the BBC. I listened back to this gig a while ago, and there's one jaw-dropping moment in it - the Proclaimers performing I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) to an audience that isn't singing along with every note, because we hadn't heard it before. They previewed a few songs from the yet-to-be-released Sunshine On Leith at this show, including Oh Jean. It has to be said that the incantatory power of its finale works best when it's just the two of them yelling over guitars, rather than the full band version that made it onto the record. 

8. MILES DAVIS & MARCUS MILLER – Los Feliz (from Music From Siesta, Warner Bros.) [video]
Ever seen the film Siesta? Don't bother, it's kinda terrible. But I was starting to get into Miles Davis around this time (initially inspired by the Scala cinema doing something fun with a copy of Tutu and a Felix The Cat cartoon), so I ended up buying Davis and Miller's soundtrack album a good year or so before the film hit the UK. Technically, it's more of a Marcus Miller album that happens to feature contributions from the world's greatest guest trumpet player: but it's still a much better collection of music than the film deserved, acting as a classy update of the ideas that Miles was playing with as far back as Sketches Of Spain.

So that was 1988 for you. Regular readers will know that in 1989, I decided I was getting in a bit of a rut, and started throwing a few things into my life to disrupt the routine. How did that affect my compilation tapes for that year? Find out soon.


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